The problem with charity

Giving to charity has been considered a noble deed by almost everybody in society, regardless of political affiliation or personal beliefs. I personally used to think highly of any person who gave money to charity, cause they did something they didn't have to in order to help others. I no longer hold this belief and have started to judge people based on what they give money to and how much they give. The type of charity you give to and the reason you are giving to charity is very important, because it plays a role in the sustainability of the work at question, the effectiveness at improving the world, and the morality of your actions.

The reason why I have started to take this seriously is when I started to believe in utilitarianism back in 10th grade. My version of utilitarianism is the view that the best action is the action that increases the amount of net happiness in the world. There is a lot of debate about how to measure happiness, who decides the utilitarian policies and so on, but it will probably be centuries till we need the answers to those debates. I want to talk about the here and now. In the present, utilitarianism would entail spending money on things that will generate the more use to humanity, or alleviate the most suffering. "Is charitable giving broken?" is a good read about this issue and the inspiration behind this article.

I really do not like the fact that people can pick and choose what they give to. Humans are irrational creatures, they do not naturally act in ways that would provide the most benefits, but they act in ways that is either most beneficial to them, or temporally beneficial to humanity. A very clear example of this issue the social media response to Hurricane Harvey causing damages in Texas. I found the sheer number of people donating money to help the victims quite overwhelming. Was humanity this good? Was I wrong about humanity all along? No I wasn't, the actions all make sense after spending 5 minutes in thought. People were donating because that's what they saw in the media. They saw that people needed help and were lacking supplies, so they felt the need to help because humans aren't selfish creatures.

However, this was a new problem, and I think that plays an important role. People don't want to fix problems that have always existed. I think part of that is because of lack of awareness and the attitude that "they are used to it". People also helped because it helped improve their social standing. This theory is called virtue signalling, and is a common insult used by right wing groups online. There is a bit of truth to it, but right wingers do literally nothing; I think words are atleast better than not caring at all. Some people are simply incapable of helping others because they need help themselves.

Anyways, getting back to the point, it looks like people's donation habits are strongly tied to the media and what it covers. The content of the popular media is strongly dominated by what people care about[^1]. People care about the people around them and the people who are similar to them. This is a natural human bias. Americans care about Texans, who are American, so it all makes sense.

Is that how we want to be though? Do we want to just be driven by our instincts? I'm sure everybody will agree that people in Africa who are dying due to starvation and children in Yemen who are suffering due to a resurgence of cholera are in a much worse condition than a Texan resident who lost their home. Statistically speaking, the person in Texas probably has an education and a job, while the person in Yemen or Africa have much less than that, if anything at all. The money we spend on saving their lives and making them better will achieve a lot more (saving a larger amount of lives) and would be more meaningful.

I'll stop ranting about this topic now, I don't think I even started to discuss the solution to it. It's just depressing how people donate to things because they feel like it instead of looking at the data for who needs the money the most and who can use it the best. If you are looking to donate, please help those much worse than you rather than people who you care about. I swear if someone says microfinancing is a solution...

[^1]: I do realize that media manipulation is a thing, but that's a whole another topic.